tragedy plus time
(originally appeared on Yareah Magazine website 4/20/2014)
Two wannabe-comedians were sitting at the bar at The Comedy Store, hoping to get a few minutes on stage and drinking. Not enough to get sloppy, just enough to want to be truthful.
“Fat girls don’t jog. They plod,” the tall one offered.
The short one didn’t laugh, but gave a far-away smile.
“Funny. But mean. Especially considering that somewhere there is a fat girl debating whether or not to start jogging. That joke may convince her otherwise.”
The tall one mulled it over. “Do you really think that a joke can affect people like that?”
“But that’s only if the joke is heard,” the tall one said darkly.
“Agreed.” The short one ordered another drink. It was getting very late and it appeared that neither of them would be getting any time.
After a long pause it was the short one’s turn to speak. “I’m guessing water balloon fights in Antarctica can get pretty brutal.”
“Not bad. The audience has to think about it a bit… but not bad.”
“Cerebral is in right now.”
“Think so? Ok, here’s one then… if you set out to catch two rabbits, you’ll catch neither. Honestly, if you set out to catch one you’re not going to get one either. Rabbits are really fast. Perhaps set out to catch something else.”
Honestly, I’m getting sick of referencing the two wannabe-comedians as the tall one and the short one. It makes no difference at all. There are two comedians talking, figure out which one is saying what yourself.
“I’m not sure that observation will work. You want them to think, not spend time in deep thought.”
“The expression ‘killing two birds with one stone’ must have a much darker connotation when birds say it.”
“There you go again. I think it’s safer just to make fun of people. People can relate to it. It’s quick and easy.”
It was obvious they both had more jokes to tell but they spent a few minutes silently sorting through them to try and come up with a funny one that didn’t have a cruel punchline.
“Ok. I have another bird one. In a scene reminiscent of a bird feeding her young, I watched a mother feed her baby. Actually, the scene was almost identical. Perhaps I should involve the authorities.”
He sat back waiting for feedback.
“Nope. Too long. An observation that long better be particularly funny.”
“Really? I really like that one. I can picture it in my head.”
“I’m telling you… pull that one out and you’re going to hear crickets.”
More drinks were ordered.
“Let me tell you one that would suffer the same fate. What do I do with my free time? I like to walk around in the woods wearing giant plaster Bigfoot feet, except I put another set of normal sneakers on top of them. Anyone who examines the prints closely enough will wonder to themselves ‘Why? What are the Yeti playing at?’”
It might be helpful at this juncture to note that they were both starting to get fuzzy as it became apparent that they weren’t going to be getting anywhere near a microphone and would soon be headed back to their small apartments alone.
“You see what I mean? When you finally figure it out it’s funny but I can’t exactly stop the show for five minutes and let people sort it out. It’s a shame though…”
“Yep. Once you picture wearing a set of normal shoes over the enormous plaster Bigfoot feet it’s kind of funny.”
“Ok, I got one. I would watch a Clown Winter Olympics just for the 30 Man Bobsled event. Picture it… come on… thirty of them piling into the bobsled… their giant red shoes trying to find traction on the ice… the medal winners crowding on the podium…”
“I got you. Funny stuff.”
But he didn’t laugh. Neither of them had actually laughed out loud at anything that was said. They were laughing or not laughing on the inside. Where all wannabe-comedians who are soon to be headed back to small apartments alone laugh.
“The worst part about the number of illegal immigrants? George Lopez keeps getting new shows.”
“Now that’s funny.”
“Is there a dumber expression than ‘It goes without saying??’ Instead there should be a long pause where everyone thinks to themselves ‘It went without saying.’”
Inside both men was the belief that they belonged on that stage. The unwavering conviction that they were funny and could make an audience laugh. That they could relate. That they could translate. Distill all their anger and disappointment into a viable product.
“Don’t let them fool you. Switching from vinyl to CDs had nothing to do with sound quality. With records you could control the RPM, with CDs you’re forced to listen at the speed The Man wants you to.”
The other man leaned back and you could almost hear him swishing the observation around in his head like wine in a glass. Thinking through the bouquet.
“Whenever I hear about somebody with sausage fingers I can’t help but imagine how harrowing it must be for them to pet a dog.”
“Yep. Not only a funny visual but you’re back at making fun of fat people. That seems to be your wheelhouse.”
“I guess the only thing left to ask is this… is it too soon for Philip Seymour Hoffman jokes?”
Had there been any other wannabes or real comedians in earshot they would have no doubt leaned in for the answer to this question.
“What was it Woody Allen said? ‘Comedy is tragedy plus time?’ I’d give it at least another few weeks.”
“Woody Allen didn’t say that first you know. It was actually Steve Allen… thirty years before Woody. That quote gets a lot of miles. Carol Burnett, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, they were all quoted as saying something similar.”
“I find it more ironic coming from Woody. From a movie called Crimes and Misdemeanors no less. A comedian who’s nailing his step-daughter talking about tragedy. You can’t write that stuff.”
“What a dirtbag. Literally the lowest of the low.”
“I hope he gets colon cancer. I would make fun of it the very day he got his diagnosis.”
“If he offered you a part in one of his movies would you take it?”